By Brendan Graham
As a haunt fanatic, I’m always looking for new experiences that immerse me in a world beyond our own, and for a few good hours, I’m looking to be distracted from my real-world troubles with some good frightful good fun. However, living in Sacramento, my options are a bit slim. Missing LA haunts terribly, My girlfriend and I ventured to the Bay Area in search of the best frights we could manage and we ended up at the world-famous Winchester Mystery House for their yearly Unhinged event and we had a wonderful time!
Photos by Brendan Graham
The Winchester Mystery House is a historic mansion in San Jose, CA. It is renowned for its unconventional architecture, complex layout, and a series of mysterious features. The house was originally the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, who was heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune. The Winchester Mystery House is a popular tourist attraction and is open to the public year-round, but during the autumn months of September and October, they welcome guests for a different kind of tour. As you wander through the mazes of twisting corridors, by staircases that lead to nowhere, and through rooms that defy reason, you'll soon realize that this is no ordinary haunted house—it is an invitation to confront the unknown, the supernatural, and the UNHINGED. This is one HOUSEWARMING you won’t soon forget.
The event's story changes every year, but it continues to be tied to the rich history of the historic grounds. This year’s event, HOUSEWARMING, introduces guests to Miles and Flora Taylor, a celebrated Hollywood pair, who have moved into the renowned Winchester Mystery House. Miles, an up-and-coming director wants to show his latest work on the grounds and has invited you to attend the premiere. Once you’ve arrived, you begin to notice that the staff and hosts are starting to act weird, and as night descends, the house beckons you inside for a night you won’t forget.
UNHINGED offers two different ticket types, we opted for their RIP package which gave us access to both routes in the haunt with front-of-the-line access, an included beverage, and the official t-shirt of the event. General tickets get you inside the event and you get to pick which side of the haunt you’d like to experience.
Upon arriving at the event, We got checked in and received our lanyards (including a card that indicated when we could enter the line for the haunt). As soon as you arrive, the cast begins to interact with you - A butler makes ominous comments about what we are about to experience, referring to you as an appetizer. Two reporters are eager to get more dirt on the hosts of the party, and Charlie Chaplin stumbled around the grounds trying to avoid having to perform for the demanding couple. The actors were fantastic that night, especially as the sun began to set and they all began behaving oddly.
We grabbed our included drink and settled into the garden for a brief performance by the fan dancer and a comedic slapstick performance by Chaplin. In the garden pre-party area, there were snacks for purchase, games you could play, photo spots, and tarot card readings (all for a cost of course). Once it was our time to enter the line for our first venture through the haunt, we eagerly joined the line to see what the house had in store. Note: Once you enter the line, you do not return to the garden for the rest of the evening.
As mentioned before, The Winchester Mystery House Unhinged offered two paths this year, and we were sent to side B first. This required us to grab hard hats and slowly made our way into the basement, ducking and dodging pipes and supports as we wandered through the dimly lit space. The basement didn’t have a lot going on, probably for safety reasons and it provided merely a pathway to the rest of the route. Once we returned our helmets, we were deep into the house. The haunt does an amazing job of spacing groups apart, so quite often you’ll find you and your group to be alone. From the second you step inside, you feel like you’re being watched and there's something around every corner.
The house is a character of its own and whether or not you believe it’s haunted, you’ll get goosebumps as you wander through as you genuinely feel like you shouldn’t be there at night. What I appreciated is that the actors didn’t go for cheap scares, they often stood and stared at you, or they told you a story and interacted with you. The effects are top-notch, especially the lighting which made the lonely halls feel extra foreboding. Route A was noticeably more frightening, so if you’re going for the general ticket, I would highly suggest this route. The actors went for more jumpscares and they were very effective, the set pieces were bigger and more extravagant and the route took you up to the attic, which is often not included in the daily tour. After you experience the home, the exit area features a gift shop, a vintage Halloween museum, some quick service food items as well as express re-entry point for RIP pass holders so you can experience the second route.
Photos by Brendan Graham
A word of caution, the house is not ADA-friendly, which is to be expected considering the age of the house but be ready to squeeze through tight corridors, duck under beams, and climb LOTS of stairs. Folks with larger body types or anyone who feels claustrophobic may be uncomfortable with some of the tiny passageways. Many of the areas of the house are pumped so full of fog that you’ll be blindly wandering through for many sections, so if that makes you uncomfortable or if you have breathing issues with fog machines, you’ve been warned as well. The house is also very warm on the inside and with all of the physical activity you’ll be doing, you may want to dress lightly or have items you can remove for the haunt experience.
The Winchester Mystery House Unhinged: Housewarming was a pleasant surprise and an experience that is well worth the trip up north. It combines interactive storytelling, fantastic acting, and amazing effects with the already spooky and bizarre home layout to provide a unique Halloween haunt walkthrough. The General Ticket cost is between $65-$70 for the night, but honestly, the RIP pass is worth it for all of the extra goodies you get as well as access to both sides of the house, which that pass is about $90 to $100, depending on the night. The event runs most weekends and some weeknights up until Halloween night.
Visit https://winchestermysteryhouse.com/unhinged/ for more information.